[Review] - Ruby Sparks

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
There is an existential question at the heart of Ruby Sparks that the movie isn't interested in answering. In fact, the movie isn't interested in much of anything. For much of it's 104 minute run time, there is very little that actually happens, beyond the hook. It seems more interested in just watching as the mundane happens, rather then try anything daring with the subject matter. So, except for some mad cappery at the beginning, and a dark climax, Ruby Sparks simply exists.

Which, considering the subject matter, might well be the most profound thing said on film this year.

Hit the jump for the review, which dreamt about spoilers, that then actually happened.

It's a story literally as old as time. The myth of Pygmalion, carving his statue, and loving her so much the gods made her real. The film itself references another Greek myth, that of Athena, stating that Ruby (Zoe Kazan) lept from Calvin (Paul Dano)'s head fully formed. Either way, the movie starts off as the wish fulfilment of every writer who has spent too much time with their pages, and sees a fiction he invented come to life.

Calvin controls her existence. He controls her actions, her thoughts, her beliefs. And while the reality of these things eventually culminates in a twisted, uncomfortable scene at the end, the rest of the film, after establishing these facts, ignores them. Perhaps it was meant to be a comment on Calvin being better then the rest of the male race (personified by his brother, played by Chris Messina). Or, perhaps it was meant to speak to Calvin's own ego, that he perceives himself to have created perfection. But the complete abandonment of the concept, in favour of a second act dominated by average relationship drama seemed to me to be a waste of an opportunity. Why raise big questions about existence, purpose and reality if all you are willing to do with them is tuck them away in a corner?

There is no ultimate point to Ruby Sparks, which I suppose is a reflection on life. But if I wanted life I would have saved the nine dollars and sat in a coffee shop. Movies need purpose, and Ruby Sparks was much more slice of life viewing, dropping in on these characters. The fact that Ruby is fiction made flesh is so secondary to the majority of the film, it's nearly pointless. When it did play a role, it was for laughs, or tears. Never serious thought.

Or maybe it was just that Calvin was so enamoured with Ruby, and we are meant to be too, through him, but I never was. Zoe Kazan does a well enough job, in a "Zoe Deschanel has a TV show now" kind of way, but I never liked Ruby, made all the more bizarre by the fact that Kazan wrote the film for herself. The acceptance of her existence pretty much kills the comedy side of the film, and the back story Calvin invents for her isn't a reflection of himself, as the film suggests at one point. He isn't living with himself. He is too mature, too inside the box. Ruby is juvenile, fluctuating and annoying. I honestly couldn't understand why, beyond the miracle of her existence, he put up with her. Which should be a fundamental goal of the film, to make me feel about her the way he does. But I don't.

In fact, no one in this film is overly relatable. The only character I felt actually had some true humanity in them was the therapist, serving as little more then a narrative bookend, an exposition dump. For whatever reason, I never quiet buy Calvin as a struggling author, a child genius doomed to live under the oppression of his former success. He comes off as more insufferable then anything. Perhaps if the character had been older, had more success behind him, but also more time not to have lived. I always find it hard to sympathise with a character who has wasted their life when they are still in their twenties. They've got plenty of life left to waste, lets give them time.

What the movie does succeed in is being funny, at least at first, and it reminds me of No Safety Guaranteed, in that it takes the time to make us laugh, but it never commits to it, and is content to stop making us laugh for long stretches of time. Dano and Messina do a fine job, the latter especially, and much of the reactionary comedy goes to them. Oddly, actors Elliot Gould and Steve Coogan appear in comedy-less roles, and so fleetingly, you wonder why they are they. In fact, the cast is littered with comedians in static roles, and dramatic actors in the cartoonish positions. It is a bizarre juxtaposition that I still struggle to understand.

In the end, the movie states outright it's not interested in looking for explanations, which is the easy way out. Or, an admission that itcouldn't think of any. Either way, I left the theatre largely unmoved by Calvin's journey. I wasn't thinking about him, and the nature of his experiences for any longer then it took me to pass the box office. The movie seems content enough to live with itself, and not go any farther, and if it isn't willing to put in the effort, then neither am I. I'm not here to do the heavy lifting for it, I'm meant to be moved by their own discoveries. And if all they want to do is watch a good thing go bad, then they can go right ahead.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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